Study Guide – The Situation of Romani (in the Balkan Region)
Who are the Romani People and where do they live?
The Romani people are known by various synonyms: Roms, Gypsies, Cingane, Travellers, Bohemian, and more. Their history is about as culturally diverse as their naming is in different European languages. The Roma are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group which traditionally live itinerant (meaning “on the move”) in various countries all around Europe. Originating from the northern Indian subcontinent the Roma community spreads over what is said to be around 30 countries and their total number is not easy to estimate. Quite a few aspects of the cultural life and the traditions of Roma communities resemble Hindu traditions, for example purity laws, which consider certain body parts, objects, rituals or even animals impure and are therefore treated differently. Apart from the very important omnipresent concept of “Romanipen” the Roma adapted cultural beliefs and religion from the regions and communities they immigrated into.
As of 2002 there were an approximate 3.8 million officially registered Roma living in Europe – the estimations from some organizations go up to 14 million European Roma though, taking into account that many choose not to register their ethnic identity in official documents. Several million Roma may live outside of Europe, in the Middle East, as well as in North and South America.
The Romani Situation in the past…
The Roma in Europe can be traced back as early as the 14th century. Nearly as far back can one track the oppression and violence the Roma faced: From the 15th century on, the Roma were expelled from Regions in modern-day Germany, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and numerous others. Following these relatively harmless banishments came deportations and enslavement. Official statuses as slaves, serfs, or for example in Russia as “crown slaves," were common. In other regions Roma were captured, imprisoned and even killed just for their ethnic identity. Used as soldiers and mercenaries by the Dutch and the French during the 17th century, Roma were forced to fight against each other – just to be slaughtered and literally hunted across the European continent after the wars. This horrendous treatment (including abduction of children, forced labor, branding, etc.) lead to big movements along the Roma communities, with many moving towards the East, into what is today Poland and Russia where the laws regarding the Roma community were less strict and more humane. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century big groups of Roma also emigrated to the United States. The enslavement of Roma was gradually abolished from the 1850s on. However, their struggles did not stop with the end of slavery: During World War II the Roma faced systematic genocide. If not already killed on sight, they were marked for extermination, sentenced to forced labor and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis. The total number of victims has been estimated to be between 220’000 and 1,500’000. Similar events happened in the then called „Independent State of Croatia", where nearly the entire Roma population of the region was murdered. After World War II Romas continued to be treated as second class citizens, with multiple countries wanting to reduce their population through forced sterilization of Roma women. Newer cases of this date back to as recent as 2004.
… and present relations of the Roma and Governments
Roma communities all over Europe face discrimination, probably on a daily basis. There are various communal and regional organizations that seek to stop this treatment, both from the governmental as well as the Roma side. Amnesty International publishes regular reports on the situation and the European Union have recognized the discrimination and sees it as something that needs to be addressed. The relationship between the Roma communities and their so called “host” countries and governments have had ups and downs and that is still the case today. As an example one could look at the Roma-Italian relations, with the government calling the Roma a “threat to national security” in 2008 and research polls presenting numbers as high as 82% of Italians expressing negative opinions and emotions towards the Roma. Roma camps have suffered attacks not only in Italy but also in France for example: In 2010 around 10’000 Roma had their camps demolished and they were deported to Bulgaria and Romania. These are just two examples of political violence perpetrated against Roma communities in recent years, not to mention the hostility Roma feel in daily life from the rest of the population.
The delegates face the challenge to both respect their country’s position on matters surrounding minorities and their population’s call for security. On the other hand they also need to end the centuries-long violence against Roma by eliminating negative associations around the Roma communities to stop daily discrimination. Undeniably, there is also the need to have a neutral investigation into the crimes that took place under different (communist) governments to bring some peace to the Roma families and communities affected.
Some links to help you start your research:
European Council and the “Roma and Traveller Team”
The European Roma Rights Centre, on social stigmas in Romania:
Projects against discrimination and pro inclusion:
For those who have time to read a long dossier (regarding the Roma relations to the countries Bulgaria, Greece, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia):
And for those who prefer video’s:
“Europe’s Unwanted People”: